HO CHI MINH CITY - Thousands of people gathered at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Min City to celebrate the first mass delivered by the newly appointed and recognized Vietnamese Cardinal, Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man. Man, who joins one other Vietnamese cardinal the 84 year old retired Pham Dinh Tung - is the only cardinal approved by the Vietnamese government since 1994.
The crowd, numbering over 1,500 filled not only the French colonial-era cathedral, but also the streets surrounding the church, as they celebrated the thanksgiving service on Tuesday, December 09.
Hopefuls viewed Mans elevation as a sign of warming ties between the communist country and the Vatican, despite a lack of diplomatic relations. Catholicism, which was spread in Vietnam by the French, was viewed with suspicion because of its ties with the colonial power. The Vietnamese government approves appointments beforehand from a list presented by the Vatican.
Attendants to the celebration included international audiences, such as a U.S. Cardinal Bernard Law from Boston and a deputy head of the South Korean Catholic Church.
Man received a floral garland before entering the cathedral for the two hour service of thanksgiving.
"The cardinal position which I have undertaken is the joy of the people of God and of the Vietnam nation," Man told the Mass in Vietnamese. "I wish to send to all members of my family thanks."
Nearly a tenth of the citizens of Ho Chi Minh City are catholic. The ceremony took place at the same venue where more than five years ago Man was installed as archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City's archdiocese.
Vietnam, which has eight million Catholics, the second biggest Catholic community in Asia after the Philippines, recognizes six religions but insists on the right to review appointments, something the Vatican opposes.